J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

“Small woodin and paper houses & Towers”

Last month I wrote about a wooden model of ancient Jerusalem that toured the colonies in 1764 and 1765. The first posting quoted the diary of a young Philadelphia woman who saw the model in Germantown in 1762 and described it as “done by an illiterate shoemaker.” I also noted another possible clue to the creation that I couldn’t follow up.

Sandra G. Hewlett, a certified genealogist in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, kindly decided to check out that lead, and this is her report.

In your 24 February 2016 post you mentioned a footnote in Stephanie Grauman Wolf’s Urban Village, in which she cited a 1761 Philadelphia probate file for Anthony Sultser that held a clue to this story.

Yesterday I visited the Philadelphia Register of Wills office at City Hall where I obtained a copy of Anthony Sultser’s estate inventory dated 17th September 1761. The last line reads:
…..small woodin and paper houses & Towers: a shew to Represent the City and Tempel of Jersusalem £20
This item had the greatest value of anything mentioned in this inventory.

Anthony Sultser’s will mentions only his wife Barbara, no children, so we don’t learn much about him from his probate file.

Some of the inventory appears above. In addition to the model, it notes “some joiners tools,” “some saws Chisels and other old tools,” and “some wooden figures” that might be related to that project. The inventory also lists “all the shoemakers tools” and “some Leather,” indicating that Sultser was the shoemaker the diarist wrote about who carved this Jerusalem. Interestingly, his estate also included (not shown in the section above) some old books, so perhaps he wasn’t illiterate after all. Or maybe he just looked at the pictures for artistic inspiration.

(Another item in the inventory is “a marvell Stone” worth two shillings. I couldn’t find that as a common phrase, so it might just have been a chunk of marble.) 

As I wrote earlier, in 1765 the Boston selectmen found that “—— & his Mother” had brought the model to Boston. Was that Sultser’s widow Barbara and her son? Or had his heirs sold the model to a family who decided to travel and display in other seaports? 

Thanks, Sandi Hewlett!


John Johnson said...

Could the "marvel stone" actually be something similar to the "seer stones" used later in the late 18th/early 19th century by mystics and spiritualists? Didn't Pennsylvania have a tradition of such mysticism?

I've seen some really odd spellings from 18th century documents, but it seems to me that "marvel" for "marble" would be right up there at the top. Makes more sense to me that a person who is interested in spiritual things and mystical things might have an item of spiritual/mystical properties.

Also, 20 shillings seems like a poor representation of value for a piece of marble (also curious as to why a shoemaker would have a piece of marble--though maybe he intended to use it in his model?)

Too bad the titles of the books weren't listed--maybe they were histories of Jerusalem with maps of the city to allow for accurate reproduction of the models?

J. L. Bell said...

My first hope when I saw the phrase “marvell stone” was indeed that it was some sort of mystical or conjuring talisman, and I thought that would make an interesting comparison to the model of Jerusalem.

However, I couldn’t find the phrase used that way anywhere in the eighteenth century, so I came away disappointed. I did find a couple of places where people wrote “marvel” instead of “marble,” and whoever made out this inventory was not an orthodox speller.

I indeed wondered if Sultser had secured a small piece of marble to represent some of Jerusalem’s buildings.